A heartfelt and wondrous debut, by a supremely gifted and exciting new voice in fiction.
Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects. Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers. If I Fall, if I Die is a remarkable debut full of dazzling prose, unforgettable characters, and a poignant and heartfelt depiction of coming of age. – Goodreads
If I Fall, If I Die is the story of Will Cardiel. When we first encounter Will, he has been inside his house without leaving it for as long as he can remember. Born in Toronto, Will’s life was fairly normal for a few years, until one day a near-accident on a subway platform sends his mother into a years-long and ever-worsening tailspin. She begins experiencing panic attacks whenever she’s in a situation she perceives to be dangerous – and she starts seeing danger everywhere.
First she moves herself and Will out of the city, retreating to her childhood home of Thunder Bay. Thinking this will be enough to quell her attacks, she sets to work settling into a new routine in the smaller town. But it isn’t long before she starts experiencing symptoms in new situations – driving on the highway, driving at night, turning across traffic, leaving her house, going down to the basement, answering the door, using the stove, changing a light-bulb.
By the time we meet Diane Cardiel, she is no longer of the world; she’s done her best to insulate herself and her son from it. They exist in self-imposed prison. A comfortable prison with deliveries of food, necessities and library books, but a prison nonetheless. Until one day Will is drawn outside by a loud noise emanating from his bushes. The next thing he knows, he’s made a “friend” and started down a path that will not only take him further and further from home, but from the mother who is doing all she can to disappear into herself.
Despite his upbringing, Will is a courageous boy. Though he has learned to take care of his mother, to serve as her nurse-maid and only human contact, he is built for adventure. It’s amazing to read of his entrance into the world, while trying to imagine what it would have been like to grow up in an environment so full of fear that showers are outlawed along with any solid food that could constitute a choking hazard. As anyone who has had to battle the conditioning of their childhood to seek the life they yearn for knows, escaping our upbringings is no easy feat.
This is a book full of heart. Its characters are complex, riddled with demons and yet beautiful in their vulnerability. I felt acutely connected to the characters in this book. I empathized with both Diane’s doomed struggle against the uncontrollable waves of anxiety that stole her freedom, and with Will’s need to both protect and escape her.
His forays into the world, and the respite he finds in his friendships are fraught with longing, discovery and the pain of potential loss. There’s Angela, a young girl who has already accepted her untimely demise from cystic fibrosis by grabbing every opportunity to live, and Jonah, whose talents range from beautiful drawings to effortlessly graceful skateboarding to a keen mind worthy of his dream to become a doctor. Both are limited by the circumstances of their birth, as Will is by his own, and both will teach him that the world is not as dangerous a place as he was raised to believe, but also that the inevitability of death is not worth giving up life to escape.
This book is one of the most beautiful and emotionally evocative books I’ve read. I was deeply moved by Christie’s ability to find the perfect words to express feelings I didn’t even realize I had. Underpinning a deeply personal story is a larger view of a community’s social construct, which comprises complex issues of poverty, race, disenfranchisement, abuse and disability that serve to constrict the lives of each character in turn.
There are layers upon layers in this book – and it is written with generous measures of both insight and beauty. Whatever it is you look for in a book, you will find it here. This is a book whose characters will accompany you as you go about your day-to-day life for quite some time after you read the final paragraph (which was so beautiful I read it three times and then sat there, just wallowing in it). If I Fall, If I Die is most definitely top of the 2015 must-read list.
**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Author: Michael Christie
Published By: McClelland & Stewart
Released: January 20, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Canadian, Character-Driven
Date Read: January 17-20, 2015